The Rev. Clifford A. Jones Sr. used his annual State of the Church Address to remind members at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church that God can be trusted, even in tough economic times.
He outlined goals for 2009 that included assisting needy children in Mecklenburg County; replenishing the church’s scholarship fund, which was hurt by last year’s stock market decline; and creating the Clara Stitt House, which would shelter two elderly women selected by the church.
To accomplish these works, Jones said, the congregation must become more committed to the Biblical principles of tithing and financial stewardship.
With more than 6,300 members, Friendship is among Charlotte’s largest congregations.
Jones recalled the church’s long commitment to community outreach and faith-based service — housing for HIV/AIDS patients, a 26-bed unit to shelter homeless women, a singles ministry with more than 100 active members, a full-time church health educator and at least four youth services running simultaneously each Sunday.
He said members should have no trouble explaining to others why they chose Friendship.
“Tell them that God has blessed you to be part of a congregation that does more than have church up in here,” he told members attending the 7:30 a.m. service, the first of three. “Tell them that the Lord is good.”
After years of helping children in South Africa and Jamaica, Jones said, the time has come to do more for poor children closer to home.
He challenged 20 families to become involved in the local foster care program this summer. He also said the church would work with local agencies to provide support and guidance for Charlotte-area youth in need.
“If we can help children in South Africa,” he said. “we can help our children in Mecklenburg and North Carolina.”
The Clara Stitt House would spring from the generosity of the late Clara Mae Stitt, a longtime Friendship member who died in March 2008 at age 90. She left her estate, which included a modest home, to the church.
Like every institution or individual with money on Wall Street, Friendship saw its $1 million scholarship fund lose about 35 percent of its value last year, Jones told the congregation. Interest earned from those assets provide financial aid to 96 students in 32 colleges and universities, he said.
Jones challenged the congregation in 2009 to replenish the lost amount. And he set a goal of increasing the total fund to $2 million in the next five years.
“For Friendship Missionary Baptist Church not to help our youth in the community would not be right, and would not be pleasing to God,” he said.
Jones asked the congregation to imagine what they could accomplish if each individual or family committed to tithing for the next two years. He then ticked off a litany of charitable organizations that could benefit.
“The Lord is saying, ‘Friendship, I’ve put some tremendous resources at your disposal. You can transform this community.’ Not Friendship, but the community.”
Likewise, he challenged members to set aside an additional 10 percent for personal savings — and to teach their children the principles of saving.
“Do children still have piggy banks?” he said. “We are giving them all of this stuff, but we are failing to teach our children and grandchildren that money ain’t free. Save a dollar for each one you give in tithe. I believe it’s God’s will.”
Above all, Jones said, Christians must remember that God alone is their creator and sustainer, and that he can be trusted to provide for their needs.
“Anybody can shout when they’ve been delivered. The challenge for the saints is when you are going through the storm, can you still say, “The Lord is my rock and my salvation?’ ”
Jones said the church’s theme for 2009 would be: “Embracing the promise throughout Mecklenburg and North Carolina.”